Roars echoed through Brick Breeden Fieldhouse corridors Saturday afternoon as local illusionist Jay Owenhouse and his band of Bengals entertained a spirited crowd.
A few steps away, in a largely silent office, Zach Minter and Bo Beck’s eyes were fixed on a fax machine.
The long wait, equal parts exhilarating and agonizing, was finally over. Both could now exhale.
There was no pomp and circumstance, only a few rapid pen strokes and some cellphone photographs to disperse to anxious family members and Twitter followers.
And with that, an aspiration many years in the making was fulfilled. Minter — a charismatic leader and disruptive force on Montana State’s defensive line —was a member of the Chicago Bears.
“I was kind of bummed my parents couldn’t be there, but I was glad to celebrate with (Beck); he’s one of the reasons why I came to Bozeman and why I’m about to play in the NFL,” Minter said of the Bobcats’ defensive line coach.
“This last week has been a whirlwind; a lot of ups and downs. It’s good to finally know where I’m going. I’m blessed to be a Bear.”
The 6-foot-1-inch, 301-pound interior lineman did not hear his name called during the three-day draft. The salve came mere moments after the conclusion of the seventh and final round Saturday, however, when Minter’s phone rang.
The team that had demonstrated the most interest made good on its promise. Soon after, Minter made things official, signing a three-year deal.
He is one of 10 rookie free agents the Bears have agreed to terms with thus far, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, and appears ideally suited to thrive in the team’s 4-3 scheme.
On May 9, after a few days spent celebrating with graduating friends and their families (he has nine credits remaining), Minter will venture to the Midwest and into the unknown. The journey begins with rookie mini camp and, hopefully, includes a spot on the Bears’ 53-man roster.
“I’m just ready to get there,” said Minter, whose mother, Danette, is a Chicago native. “I’m excited to see family, and I’m excited to show the team who I am and what I can do.”
MSU head coach Rob Ash saw the potential years ago, when he traveled to Glendale, Ariz., and gawked as Minter, then a Cactus High School standout, dunked basketballs and ran the point for the Cobras — at about 235 pounds, no less.
Minter played just two years of prep football, but he still registered 15 sacks and 60 tackles during a senior season in which he garnered first-team All-State recognition. Beck beamed when he pondered the possibilities.
“He was a little raw, but he ran so well and was so athletic,” recalled Beck, who, like Minter’s father, Larry, played football at Colorado State.
“I figured he’d be a defensive end, for sure. … Once he had a growth spurt, got to where he did — 300 to 305 — and still kept all of that athleticism, that’s when we knew we had something special.”
That potential blossomed in Bozeman.
Minter played eight games as a freshman and burst onto the scene as a sophomore, logging 28 tackles — 10 for a loss — five sacks, nine pass break-ups and a handful of highlight-reel-caliber plays.
“A defining moment that really put him on the map was an interception against Eastern (Washington); he took that thing 63 yards to the house and outran (defenders who had) angles,” Beck said. “A couple games before, against Drake, he just took the ball away from the quarterback and stepped into the end zone — all after avoiding a block.”
In his junior and senior seasons with the ’Cats, the family and consumer science major wreaked havoc in the backfield. He compiled 10.5 sacks and earned All-Big Sky honors twice — an impressive feat considering he missed two full games and parts of two others last fall because of a hamstring injury.
Any concerns about his health were quashed, however, at March 18’s MSU pro day and April 7’s super regional combine in Dallas, where he ran a 4.8-second, 40-yard dash and registered a vertical leap of 34.5 inches. Had he been invited to the combine in Indianapolis, Minter’s marks would have been tops and second best, respectively, among defensive tackles, a group that included four eventual first-round selections. (Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson and Utah’s Star Lotulelei, who were the 13th and 14th overall picks, ran 4.95 and 5.05 40s.)
Minter garnered the attention of the Bears, who reached out about a week before the draft, he said.
“Those calls consisted of mostly asking me where I’d be on draft day, what my backup phone numbers were and all that good stuff,” Minter said. “It was exciting. I definitely got my hopes up.
“It was very stressful. I was watching with my roommate, Scott, playing some video games and trying not to think about it too much. … Once the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds rolled around, I was glued to the TV. I was thinking my name could pop up at any time. I was making sure my phone was charged, making sure I knew where it was.”
And fielding a seemingly endless stream of calls from his mother.
“She called every 15 seconds,” he joked. “I was like, ‘Mom, don’t call anymore. I need to leave this line open. What the hell!’”
Added Beck, “They’ve made it a lot meaner now by extending the draft to three days, but I think he handled it really well. We went to lunch a couple of times and tried to distract him.”
Chicago defensive line coach Mike Phair checked in before the seventh round. The Bears ultimately went in another direction, however, and turned to Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson with their final selection.
No matter. Minter was on his way to the Fieldhouse soon after. And next week, he’s off to Chicago.
“I believe he is a legitimate NFL prospect with his size and explosiveness, and I think he has a reasonable chance to make the Bears’ roster,” Ash wrote in a text message to the Chronicle on Thursday night. “I am excited and hopeful for him.”
Added Beck, “To tell you the truth, I was comfortable with what was going to happen. It’s almost scary if another team would’ve come up and snatched him — you don’t know what their interest level is and how many guys they have on the roster. Getting drafted is a pride factor, for sure, but things work out for a reason.
“They always say that defensive linemen are the prettiest girls in the room that everybody wants. He’s got all the tools to help a team win games, and he’s a dynamic character and a good kid. He’s got a great personality; the whole community here was drawn to him.”
Fittingly, Minter is eager to tackle the next challenge.
“I’m going to shoot for the skies. I know I’m capable of playing right away, and I know I can do what they ask of me,” he said. “I’m nervous. I’m moving to a place where I don’t know that many people, … but I have family there. And the last time I made a move like this, it really worked out for me.
“Bozeman has been great and the people here have really supported me. I’m glad I can put them on the map again, and I hope I represent them well.”
Jon Maletz can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2601. Follow him on Twitter @jmaletz